So, I don't usually jump into confrontations like this (hence why it's been a while since I've posted anything here at the How), but after having several conversations with friends on this issue, it's time we finally took a stand against the liberal theology that has been coming from the Osteens. Lest someone (rightly) call us out here at the Insurgency for not standing for truth, we'd like to take a moment to investigate the dangers of theology not based on Scripture, and why as loving, kind Christians there is a place for proper criticism.
Before jumping into any problems with theology, though, a few ground rules:
1) There will be no name-calling in this post. Sure, technically the word "heretic" could be used a lot in this post, but I'm refraining from using it because I don't think it's helpful for what we're doing here. So I'm refraining. If you have something that would be accurate and true to share along this vein, please refrain as well - I want a civil conversation as we address this issue.
2) If you post on this page, you'd better show up with a sword to a swordfight. If you don't have Scripture, solidly grounded, taking in the totality of Scripture into your understanding of a passage, you'd be wise to keep your comment to yourself. You're at the Forge, and sharp, strong weapons is what we specialize in. So be ye warned: solid analysis and exegesis, or expect incoming fire, :)
So, with this in mind, I'd like to focus on three things in this post. First, why do we care so much about doctrine, and why would Centaur come out of a semi-comatose state to write on this blog (because I do owe you all an answer to that, :P ). Second, I'd like to take an in-depth look at the problems with Osteen Theology as expressed by Mr. and Mrs. Osteen, so that we're talking about what they have said, not someone else's paraphrasing or perspective on their theology (though there will be some of that brought in to facilitate a taste for some of the discussion going on in the greater intellectual community), and then I want to end by addressing perhaps the fundamental defense for their statements over the years: "We should love them, not criticize them," because this is a critical question for us to address here at the How - and arguably why this site exists in the first place.
1. Why Good Doctrine Matters
"Doctrine" is a word that has come under some fire in recent years - people don't like hearing the "D" word because it has come to take on the meaning of "dogmatic legalism" and a propensity to assume that doctrine is always defended in a hostile and "grumpy" manner. My hope in this post is to break that line of thinking in my defense of a core and critical component of Christianity: the upholding of sound doctrine grounded in truth.
God is truth. God is love. And God is One, which means that in Him love and truth are never opposed to each other. So as we talk about the words and actions of persons - especially persons who have accepted the call as a pastor - there is a need for both love and truth to come together in our interactions with Christians and non-Christians. Having one and not the other is a bifurcation of truth, and not the truth that Christ has called us to share.
And I want to spend some time at the beginning of this post to talk at length about the critical nature of Mr. Osteen's position as a pastor because it's an afterthought (or missing) from a lot of the articles on the Osteen controversy at present. As the pastor of a large church, Mr. Osteen has a strong platform to present the gospel to a lot of people (read: over 40,000 people at a time). And there is no doubt in my mind that people have been blessed by his ministry over the years (with the discussion of "being blessed" and "being filled with truth" being put aside for a moment). But as a pastor, per what Paul tells us consistently across Scripture, there is a higher calling placed on pastors than just blessing people through their teachings: they are called to carefully and faithfully present the Word.
In 1 Timothy Chapter 3 and Titus Chapter 1, the Apostle Paul spends a good amount of time talking about the proper expectations for an elder/bishop/overseer/pastor (based on your translation). In 1 Timothy 3:2-7, Paul hits a number of the overall qualities in the person, and it is without doubt that some of these qualities are present in Mr. Osteen (and in Christians who are not pastors or elders). The questions that are currently being pressed in the media in regards to this list is Paul's command regarding being "able to teach," which is further elaborated on in Titus 1:9: "...holding fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." (NKJV)
One of the seminal arguments against the doctrine of the Osteens is their desire not to offend, convict, or exhort. And while on its own a lack of condemnation is not necessarily a sign of poor handling of the Word, when a pastor is constantly seen himming and hawing on points that the Bible is very clear on because he "does not want to offend anybody," and sees his mission as purely "lifting up people's spirits," we have a problem, because pastors are called to do more than just make people feel warm and special. They are called to exhort (that is to say, to beseech, to urge, to plead, to make uncomfortable that they might grow in spiritual maturity) and to convict because they are in a place of spiritual authority and accountability. Pastors are used by God to keep the flock in the path of righteousness, and part of their role is keeping their parishioners accountable to walk in truth.
As the son of a pastor (just like Mr. Osteen), one of the things that I appreciated most about my father's teaching on Sunday mornings was the fact that he cared enough about us - that is to say, that he loved us enough - to instruct us on how we should walk, both by reinforcing the need and desire for holiness (more on that in a bit), and also by drawing attention to sins that must be avoided that we might grow in spiritual maturity. My primary question for Mr. Osteen as I listen to his sermons (and even more so as I listen to his interviews) is how he expects to help people to grow if he never calls attention to their need to reject sin? He preaches a lot about God's love and forgiveness, but we never hear a word about what they should be forgiven from, let alone the need to turn from things that our flesh loves that are harmful to our spiritual growth.
2. Osteen Theology: Liberal Theology in a New Light
Mr. Osteen claims that he wants people to love God with all of their hearts, and yet he is very vague on what that means. This does not surprise us when we understand it within the greater context of liberal theology. Liberal theology uses the same words as traditional Christianity, and thus it sounds very similar. The distinguishing mark of liberalism, however, is the focus of the message.
Liberal theology focuses on the actions (and reactions) of man. If people are offended by something, they avoid it. There is an unhealthy fear of man - a fear of how people might receive a doctrine, claim, or statement - that causes truth to be watered down, hidden away, or changed so as to make it more palatable to the audience, and thus it is not surprising when people claim that liberal theologians and pastors are "nice people" who are "friends of sinners."
The Osteens fall into this category. One need only do a cursory glance of interviews with Mr. Osteen to find that it is very difficult to hear him take a stance on anything that might be construed as controversial, and the very manner in which he responds to questions makes you immediately question his firmness on anything else (I don't know whether it is the soft voice with the smooth smile and the slick hair or something else, but you just get that uneasy feeling...). The only things that he consistently returns to in his interviews and sermons is his personal goal of helping people feel more empowered to do good things, and the fact that God wants us to "live abundantly." And how does he define this?
When Mr. Osteen speaks of "believing" (and especially about "don't stop believing"), it always comes down to believing in your dreams, your desires, your endeavors - never once do we see him encouraging people to submit to a plan created by God, a plan that all too often is different from what we desire in our flesh.
Why do we not see this? Because it's offensive to say things like, "you need to lay aside what you desire in your flesh - your desire to rise in the company, your hopes for a higher income, your wish to get a new car - and instead pursue the things He desires, which do not always come with greater prosperity here on earth." Does God grant blessings to His people down here? Of course He does. Are some of those blessings poverty (as a means of learning greater trust in God's ability to sustain us), weakness (that we might better understand our need for God's strength to get us through the day), and rejection (because "the world was not worthy of them")? Of course they are. But these blessings are completely glossed over by Mr. Osteen - almost as if they are not the promises of Scripture.
And that, my friend and reader, is the heart of liberal theology. Suffering for Christ is downplayed in the name of prosperity and success, even though suffering for Christ is one of the most helpful spiritual disciplines we can ever experience. And this makes sense, because liberal theology has a focus on us, rather than a focus on holiness.
And that's the crux of my disagreement with Mr. Osteen: we see him constantly encouraging people to pursue their dreams, but we never see him encouraging his followers to pursue holiness.
3. Love Endures All Things: Why Respectful Criticism Shows God's Love
Let's make sure one thing is clear before we go any further: it is our desire here at the How to pay as much respect to people as we can when we criticize them. I've been on the brunt end of hurtful, hateful criticism in my time, and I don't like it any more than the next person. But let's also make sure this is clear: believing that Christians "should not judge," even under the guise of, "I leave that up to God," inasmuch as it causes Christians to water down Scripture's teachings about things that are clearly opposed to God's holiness and commands in Scripture, is a wrong approach to "Christian love." To believe that "love" means "never causing someone to be uneasy with error in their life" is to misunderstand both what God's love is as well as the nature of sin.
Sin loves comfort - it doesn't want the soul to grow, to move, to change, because to do so would risk the chance that the person might realize the ugliness of sin and the goodness of holiness. And any time that a Christian - and especially a pastor - is uncomfortable with making people uncomfortable in their lifestyles, their desires, and their understanding of sin, you can wager quite successfully that you're hearing liberal theology.
The Bible means too much to us to let it be used incorrectly - we don't often come out on topics like this, but this is important enough to take a stand, and we hope that you will stand with us.
Watching the skies,
"Will they follow me?" ~ High King Peter
"To the death." ~ Oreius